Up until a few weeks ago, a big night out was a great way to have fun with friends while a quiet night in was a chance for relaxing and recharging. Now, with the country effectively under a quarantine directing us all to stay at home as much as possible, evenings in are the new norm. And while you probably had your ways to make the first few days of the nationwide shutdown tolerable, chances are by now tedium and boredom have set in pretty intensely.
As they were in the days before social distancing, board games are a great way to stave off boredom and make an afternoon with the kids or an evening with your significant other or roommates genuinely enjoyable. The key is to choose a game that will be enjoyable for all players. Pick a game that’s too hard for the kids, and the fun never starts; choose one that’s too mindless for the parents, and their fun soon fades. And when you’re sheltering in place with an all-adult crowd, you need to make sure you choose games that all potential players will enjoy, which includes avoiding ones that might be found offensive. Looking at you, Cards Against Humanity.
Here are a few great board games for all sorts of different lockdown contingents.
Best for Families with Toddlers or Preschoolers
This game is essentially just about matching two tiles — a head and a body — to create a whole animal, so even a three-year-old can understand the gameplay. (And you can make it easier by removing any number of the animals, meaning there’s less to memorize.) But because mismatched tiles mean everyone playing has to launch into a funny walk and make funny noises, it can be fun for older kids and parents, too, provided they’re willing to commit to the wackiness.
Best for Families with Elementary School-Aged Kids
This game can be played by two, three, or four people, and while the rules are simple enough for kids in kindergarten or first grade to grasp, there is a genuine strategy here and even adults will enjoy the gameplay. (Ideally, they’ll take it a bit easy on the youngsters, of course.) A round of Ticket to Ride usually takes about a half-hour, making it ideal for the modest attention span of most kids. And you can always just play again.
Best for Keeping Kids Learning While Away from School
The coronavirus may be the topic of the moment, but this is still an election year. This game helps kids learn about the election process while also incorporating lots of math and U.S. geography, so it’s not only enjoyable but also genuinely educational. It can be played by two players or by two opposing teams.
Best for Players Age 8 and Up
Scrabble is a classic for a reason: It’s excellent. This is one of the few games out there that really can be enjoyed by players of any age over eight or so. Adults can match wits (and words) time and again while parents can go soft on the kids while encouraging development of their language skills. And when you buy the basic version, it’s a remarkably affordable game, too. Just don’t bump the board.
Best for Couples
It’s true what it says on the Othello box: The game takes just a minute to learn. Less than that, really: You place tiles that bracket your opponent’s color and then flip them to yours. But mastering the strategy of the game takes dozens of repeat plays. It’s a perfect game to enjoy while also chatting, listening to a podcast, or glancing back and forth at phones, which let’s face it, you’ll be doing a lot.
Best for Families with Teens
While perfectly suitable for play among adults, this unique game is ideal for the family with older kids, as it can help restore lines of communication often frayed in the teenage years. Gameplay essentially consists of each player answering often profound questions — “How does your past influence your future?” — selected at random using a die and stack of question cards. There are no right answers and no winners or losers, but there is a lot to be gained from a better understanding of each co-player and, just maybe, yourself.
Best for Roommates
If you and two or three other buddies are holed up together for the foreseeable future, then why not get into a game that usually takes at least an hour to play? The rules of Catan take a few minutes to grasp, but once you get it, you can go pretty far down the rabbit hole of tactics, trickery, trade, and triumph. And if you and the roomies have already played the OG Catan, why not try one of the many expansion kits or spinoffs, like A Game of Thrones: Catan?
Best for Large Groups
If you’re bunkered down with at least four but up to a dozen or more people, then Taboo is an ideal game. Whereas many games have four people as the top limit of players, here four is the minimum. And as this is necessarily a team game, it’s all the more fun with all the more people. This updated version of the classic has 450 game cards, so you and the gang should get to enjoy multiple rounds before you all start memorizing the terms that are, well, taboo!
Best for Adults Only
The better you know your friends, the more fun you’ll have with this game. (But watch out, or you also might end up profoundly insulting a friend and making the isolation period all that more awkward.) Each card contains statements like “Spends all day interpreting a text” or “Wakes up with half a burrito in bed.” Then it’s on the player who drew the card to decide to whom it’s assigned. The first person with seven cards loses; there are no winners.
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